Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Getting to know you

Many moons ago, I taught Anatomy & Physiology up at UAS-Ketchikan. Teaching anatomy is easy - this is the tibia, this is the fibula. Teaching physiology is much harder, because it's almost like an act of faith. So much of our body's processes go on at a microscopic level that you just have to believe muscles contract the way they do because science says so (obviously, there are hundreds of experiments and decades of research to back up this information, but who has time to spot-check everything?). But you can't really see any of this physiological activity going on.
That's why David Macaulay's new book is so great. The Way We Work: getting to know the amazing human body diagrams out the body's processes in a way that is easy to understand and vastly entertaining. His drawings present the pertinent details while clearing away a lot of the clutter (the body is way too cluttered), everything is nicely labeled, and he uses color to highlight important aspects of the anatomy or physiology for the reader. For example, in showing the pathway of information from the eyes to the brain (pg 180), Macaulay uses 4 different colors to show how visual crossover works and where the information from different areas of the retina actually ends up in the brain. There are a few whimsical touches in his drawings that makes this book even more enjoyable (a choir of angels holding up the transverse colon, for example). I will say, however, that his more imaginative perspectives on anatomy are so unique that it takes a minute or two to orient yourself in some of the drawings. Overall, this is a book that everyone should read since everyone possesses a body, and should have some inkling of how it works.

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